83: My Parents’ Worth

83: My Parents’ Worth

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

My Parents’ Worth

What this world needs is a new kind of army—the army of the kind.

~Cleveland Amory

After travelling thirteen hours from my home in Munich, Germany, and circling the Nashville airport waiting for the snow to let up, I finally landed in the middle of a brief but ambitious blizzard. It was going to be a different Christmas. This year I knew I was coming home to a country and family changed by crisis, each doing their best to cope with their own blizzards.

“How is she?” I asked my father and gave him a big hug.

“Pretty well,” he said, helping me with my suitcase. “She has some pain in the arm where they took the lymph nodes.”

He filled me in on my mother’s condition as we poked along with the other snow-frightened drivers. The blizzard had caught so many off guard. When we finally arrived home, my mother greeted us at the door, decorated with tubes and round, plastic drains peeking out of her pajamas here and there like ornaments. She’d just had the mastectomy the day before.

“You look like a Christmas tree,” I said, always looking for the hilarity in a crisis.

“I feel like one. Your mail’s on the table.” She turned to go into the kitchen. “You’ll have to pour your own tea. I’m not supposed to lift anything.”

I got my tea and sat down in the kitchen to talk about turbulence and bad airline food and to open the stack of letters my parents always collect for me—a bouquet of alumni newsletters, credit card approvals, and mutual fund quarterly statements. Staring at my most current statement, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that, at least on paper, I was worth about thirty percent less than I was last Christmas, the last time I’d sat in front of this stack.

“Uhhh...” I said to my wealth manager, otherwise known as Daddy, who’d just taken his seat at the table with his super-heated coffee. It was bubbling like a lab experiment.

As I’m sure he’d repeated a hundred times that month, he proceeded to calm my fears—so eloquently expressed—by outlining the last four economic valleys in U.S. history and their subsequent upswings. His coffee had long since gone cold by the time he ended the lecture, owing mainly to the fact that my father speaks in slow motion. (We call him Slow Joe.) It was, however, exactly what I needed to learn about America’s current financial blizzard: 1) things might get worse; 2) they will get better; 3) it might take a while.

“And you’re still worth just as much to me,” said my wealth manager—which was comforting in its lighthearted humor, but wasn’t this just a tad off topic?

It suddenly hit me that if I, with my pitifully small molehill of cash, was worth thirty percent less, then my father, with his considerably larger mountain, was suffering from devaluation on a much grander scale; and it did cross my mind that some of this dwindling Mount Moola was, or would be, my inheritance. I raised my finger to broach the subject, but before I could embarrass myself with the crass question, “Just how much of my inheritance have we lost?” the phone rang.

An old friend was losing her home. The bank had given her until the end of the month, but by the end of the day, my parents had rallied the troops—better known as their Sunday School class—and come up with the payment. None of the people in the class knew the woman, and none was under the illusion that this would save her home; but the money would buy her another month to figure something out.

I knew my parents would be there to help her do just that. You see, they have always been staunch believers that the Church should help when it can. Dinner-table discussions have often focused on what’s wrong with the world and whether the Church should be more active in getting things right. My father, a red-tie-wearing Republican, and I, an expatriate living in Germany for the last thirteen years, rarely see eye to eye on anything political. We talk and talk until my father withdraws to his office to play solitaire and I retreat to the gym.

This visit was different. There was no time for theoretical political discussions, no musing about what was wrong with the world. This year I witnessed my parents—compassion and generosity—in action. I watched as my mother, still in her pajamas and in pain, phoned friend after friend, explaining the woman’s predicament a dozen times until well into the evening hours. My father, a military man, chose the e-mail blitz. A bit stunned by all the action around me, I sat back and learned.

In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, my father orchestrated other mini-bailouts: A friend’s car required urgent repairs, a client in distress needed someone to talk to—and who would have thought this person would be his wealth manager? Each time the phone rang, my father hit the ground running with his step-up-to-the-plate attitude. The blizzard seemed to be getting worse. In fact, December was such a busy month that I almost forgot to buy Christmas presents.

They turned out to be simpler this time. I got socks; I needed socks. We bought one another books; we love authors. One gift from my parents was a donation made in my name to the Nashville Rescue Mission, a charity that provides food and shelter to the homeless. It’s the gift I’ll remember most fondly. In fact, everyone received this present from my parents, even the small children, who didn’t quite know what to do with the worthless slip of paper. It wasn’t a Tennessee Titans sweatshirt or Nintendo. It didn’t taste good.

“We thought we’d try something different this year,” my mother said, her voice a bit wobbly. Was she worried that we’d be disappointed?

“You just don’t like shopping,” I laughed.

She laughed, because she really does hate shopping.

Joking aside, I knew what she meant, but I had a sneaking feeling that this form of fire-brigade generosity was nothing new for my parents.

A teacher by vocation, I like to think of myself as a good student, and on this visit home I was fortunate to learn a few new lessons: 1) People of action, like my parents, will love us through this financial blizzard with their mini-bailouts; 2) I’m a bit silly, which I’d suspected on numerous occasions; and 3) my parents’ worth is infinitely greater than the sum of all their investments.

~Christopher Allen

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